December 21, 2004
Volume III, Issue 19
I'll follow the sun...
Golf never really ends. One season morphs into the next. The top players compete so much in the "off-season'' that they have to take a break when the "real'' season begins. No matter. The calendar says the year is coming to an end, so we must draw a line in the sand — or snow — somewhere. This is where we have chosen to do it. Other than a few made-for-television tape-delayed events, there won't be any real golf to view. Those playing still are either fortunate to be in a balmy climate or are perhaps a bit too devoted to their chosen pastime. In any case, here is a brief look back at 2004. And remember, the 2005 season is, oh, about three weeks away.
Fiji, is that any where near Scotland?
It will rank as one of the best years in PGA Tour history. When Vijay Singh captured the Chrysler Championship in late October, he joined Tiger Woods as the only players since 1950 to win nine times in a single season. Singh took his third major at the PGA Championship, where he won a three-hole aggregate playoff over Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard. He also won six of his last nine starts while becoming the first player to surpass $10-million in season earnings. Singh has now won 12 times since turning 40 last year and is the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Not bad for a guy who was a PGA Tour rookie at age 30 in 1993.
Season over? I was just starting to warm up...
Annika Sorenstam continues to amaze. And you could make a strong argument that her season was every bit as good — or better — than Singh's. She won eight times on the LPGA Tour in just 18 starts. Worldwide, she won 10 times in 20 starts. That .500 batting average goes a long way here. Although she managed just one major title, at the LPGA Championship, Sorenstam was still the dominant force in women's golf. She has an amazing 56 LPGA titles, putting her alone in fifth place, just four wins behind Patty Berg.
The doughboy becomes the moolah man...
After his worst season as a pro (2003) — and despite vowing he would never change his style of play — Phil Mickelson re-made his game. Working with instructor Rick Smith, he developed a trusty fade off the tee. Working with short-game guru Dave Pelz, he fine-tuned his wedge play and expanded his repertoire around the greens. The result was a riveting victory over Ernie Els at the Masters, and near-misses in the rest of the major championships. Mickelson finished second to Retief Goosen by two shots at the U.S. Open, missed a playoff by one at the British Open and by two at the PGA Championship. Although Mickelson slumped at the end of the season, he still finished third on the PGA Tour money list. And then he shot that 59 in Hawaii. Pretty good stuff.
He may have stumbled, but he's still the Tiger...
Tiger Woods spent the whole year making excuses for what was wrong with his game. And then, when almost nobody was watching, he won two tournaments that make you wonder if he wasn't right all along. After winning the Match Play Championship in February, his only win of the year on the PGA Tour, Woods began to make changes in his golf swing. The result was a long, frustrating season that twice saw him blow 36-hole leads and also a 54-hole advantage at the Tour Championship. But Woods won the Dunlap Phoenix, a Japanese Tour event, and his own Target World Challenge. The Japan event did not have a stellar field, and the Target had just 16 players. But Woods looked like his old self, stinging those 2-irons off the tee and hitting soaring irons shots that landed next to the pin. When you add those two wins up with 10 top-five finishes and 15 top-10s in 19 events on the PGA Tour, it doesn't look so bad. Here's betting Woods is a force again in '05.
Typically one of the most compelling events in golf, the Ryder Cup turned into a final-day bore as the Europeans routed the Americans 18 1/2 to 9 1/2 — the biggest defeat for the United States ever. Nothing worked for U.S. captain Hal Sutton, who, for some reason, did not have the players practice with their partners in the days leading up to the tournament and whose controversial pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson on the first day led to two defeats. Woods went 2-3 and dropped to 7-11-2, again raising questions about his commitment to the event. Of 11 matches that went to the 18th hole, the Americans lost three, tied eight and won none. The U.S. has now lost four of the last five Ryder Cups. Tom Lehman has been named 2006 captain and already the PGA of America has changed the way players qualify for the team, putting more emphasis on 2006, hoping to get the hottest players. In the meantime, we can look forward to the 2005 Presidents Cup, where the Americans take on an international team without Europe included.
A Wie bit short, but lots of seasons left...
Michelle Wie, who was 14 at the time, turned heads with her prodigious drives at the Sony Open in Hawaii, where she was given a sponsor's exemption into the PGA Tour event. Wie came within one stroke of making the 36-hole cut and gained the praise of the PGA pros. Wie went on to finish tied for fourth at the Kraft Nabisco and tied for 13th at the U.S. Women's Open, almost making people forget that she is not old enough to drive. She finished in the top 20 six times in seven LPGA starts. On the negative side, Wie did not win a single tournament all year at any level. That has made many in the game wonder if she shouldn't concentrate on amateur golf and learn to win. At the moment, Wie is taking 10th-grade classes. She will play in the Sony Open again in January. But another teen sensation might steal her thunder. Paula Creamer, 18, who tied Wie at the Women's Open, won the LPGA's qualifying tournament and has turned pro.
So close and yet so far away...
It was a heartbreaking year in the major championships for Ernie Els. He stood on the putting green, awaiting a playoff at Augusta National, when the roars of the crowd told him everything: Phil Mickelson had holed the winning birdie putt on the 18th green to beat him. He was paired alongside countryman Retief Goosen in the final group at the U.S. Open, two shots out of the lead. But a treacherous Shinnecock Hills course led to a round of 80, while Goosen shot 71 to secure the title. Els then came within an eyelash of birdieing the last three holes at Royal Troon to steal the Open Championship from Todd Hamilton. But his birdie putt on the final hole went below the cup, and Els then lost to the unheralded Hamilton in a four-hole aggregate playoff, making a bogey at the 17th hole. With one last chance at the PGA Championship, Els was on the fringe of contention all weekend, and seemed to try and force things on Sunday. A three-putt bogey at the last hole became maddeningly disappointing when the other contenders fell back and Els missed a playoff by a stroke.
Arnie says goodbye...
He shot consecutive 84s to miss the cut for the 21st straight year, but nobody much cared. Arnold Palmer played in his 50th consecutive Masters, then said it would be his last. His first was in 1955, and he went on to win the green jacket in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964.
Infamous Golf Quotes
Golf is often analogized to life because of the many similarities. Surely there are some great quotes out there that we can all "spout off about knowing" on the tip of our tongue. However, after some intense research and scrutiny, this crack team at Off the Fringe feels we have selected the ten most outstanding golf quotes of all time... that not everyone has heard!
Do you know some not-so-famous quotes? Click here to post your favorites and see others you can use at next week's golf outing.
- Ben Hogan - As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.
- Lee Trevino - I am not saying my golf game went bad, but if I grew tomatoes they would have come up sliced.
- Harry Tofcano - I'm hitting the woods just great, but I'm having a terrible time getting out of them.
- Winston Churchill - Golf is a game whose aim it is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.
- Anonymous - Real golfers don't cry when they line up their fourth putt.
- Jack Benny - Give me golf clubs, fresh air and a beautiful partner ... and you can keep the clubs and the fresh air.
- Gardner Dickinson - They say that life is a lot like golf - don't believe them. Golf is a lot more complicated.
- Bobby Jones - Sometimes the game of golf is just too difficult.
- Steve Ballesteros - I'd like to see the fairways more narrow. Then everyone would have to play from the rough, not just me.
- Tommy Bolt - Always throw your clubs ahead of you. That way you don't have to waste energy going back to pick them up.
Argue if you like, but here are a few of 2004's best...
- Best putt: After getting a read from playing partner Chris DiMarco, Phil Mickelson used the knowledge gained in "the read" to trickle in an 18-foot downhill birdie putt on the 18th green at Augusta National to win the Masters by one shot over Ernie Els. It was Mickelson's first major title after 12 years as a pro.
- Best leap: Phil Mickelson, 18th green at Augusta National after winning the Masters. Yea baby, who says white men can't jump?
- Best round: Retief Goosen didn't even match par during the final round of the U.S. Open, but his 1-over-par 71 was still the stuff of legend. While most players got frustrated with the difficult final-round setup of Shinnecock Hills, Goosen managed to stay calm. He had 12 one-putt greens and his score was more than seven strokes better than the field average.
- Best amateur: UNLV's Ryan Moore might have had the most dominant year by an amateur since Bobby Jones. Moore won six straight tournaments, including the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Amateur Public Links, the Western Amateur and the NCAA Championship. He is a senior at UNLV and will play the first three majors next year before turning pro.
- Best year by a player you didn't know, LPGA: Mexico's Lorena Ochoa had a record-setting college career at Arizona and was the 2003 rookie of the year. She took another step this year with her first two pro victories and 18 top-10 finishes.
- Best year by a player you didn't know, PGA: Todd Hamilton toiled in Japan for 12 years, never able to earn his PGA Tour card. After finally doing so, Hamilton broke through in a big way, first holding off Davis Love to win the Honda Classic in March, and then going shot for shot with Ernie Els in a playoff to win the British Open.